As we watch the ocean and the blue sky, planning for the future, full of faith that it will be there for us, we have to be a little wary today. “Before the specialization of the disciplines that accompanied the Industrial Revolution, one of the dominant strains of Western culture was a concern for the limits of responsible action. And these limits were defined primarily by the human place, below the angels and above the animals, in the hierarchy of created things. To act in violation of these limits is to invite consequences that cannot be controlled, and may not be survived.’ – Wendell Berry
Just think: before the Industrial Revolution, how much pollution did we have? Life might have been a greater struggle, but we could breathe the air and drink the water almost anywhere. Now we have Fukushima radioactive water from the nuclear accident of March 11, 2011 running out into the Pacific every day from massively tainted rivers and groundwaters poisoning the Pacific Ocean, being detected in tuna fish caught off the city of San Diego; thousands of new chemicals being introduced into our environment every year; superweeds resisting herbicides that Monsanto and Dow manufacture to match their genetically altered crops, now wanting ‘Agent Orange Corn’ to be released into our fields and water, inviting 2-4-D to be the GMO-latest plant saviour.
Industry and corporations, profiteers and nuclear plant owners, want to regulate their own industries, as we are inviting chicken processors to do. There was lead in gasoline that car manufacturers and oil companies resisted regulating, although lead was damaging our health, and especially the health of our children. Now there is mercury, that people try to poo-poo, still using it in the vaccine industry, although it looks like it is linked to causing autism. Then there was Coketown back in the summer of ‘Hard Times’ by Charles Dickens:
‘The streets were hot and dusty on the summer day, and the sun was so bright that it even shone through the heavy vapour drooping over Coketown, and could not be looked at steadily. Stokers emerged from low underground doorways into factory yards , and sat on steps, and posts, and palings, wiping their swarthy visages, and contemplating coals. The whole town seemed to be frying in oil. There was a stifling smell of hot oil everywhere. The steam-engines shone with it, the dresses of the Hands were soiled with it, the mills throughout their many stories oozed and trickled it. The atmosphere of those Fairy palaces was like the breath of the simoom; and their inhabitants, wasting with heat, toiled languidly in the desert. But no temperature made the melancholy mad elephants more mad or more sane. Their wearisome heads went up and down at the same rate, in hot weather and cold, wet weather and dry, fair weather and foul. The measured motion of their shadows on the walls, was the substitute Coketown had to show for the shadows of rustling woods; while, for the summer hum of insects, it could offer, all the year round, from the dawn of Monday to the night of Saturday, the whirr of shafts and wheels.
Drowsily they whirred all through this sunny day, making the passenger more sleepy and more hot as he passed the humming walls of the mills. Sun-blinds, and sprinklings of water, a little cooled the main streets and the shops; but the mills, and the courts and alleys, baked at a fierce heat. Down upon the river that was black and thick with dye, some Coketown boys who were at large – a rare sight there rowed a crazy boat, which made a spumous track upon the water as it jogged along, while every dip of an oar stirred up vile smells. But the sun itself, however beneficent generally, was less kind to Coketown than hard frost, and rarely looked intently into any of its closer regions without engendering more death than life. So does the eye of Heaven itself become an evil eye, when incapable or sordid hands are interposed between it and the things it looks upon to bless.’
That was in the mid-1800’s. Imagine if that existence had been accepted, continuing through and progressively worsening unhindered, until today…But we have used our brains and senses of responsibility not to throw our garbage on our neighbors’ lawns or persistently poison the air and water that our children must breathe. Though today, in modern day America, we have the corporations gaining increasing control of our politicians and media, pushing de-regulation – – removing regulations/restraints that have protected us from our excesses being excessively expressed – – so that so that we are grabbing and stabbing at our health again, a la the Alberta Tar Sands (the largest industrial project on Earth today, each barrel of oil produced from these massive chomps of tar sands/earth producing three times the pollution of a ‘conventional’ barrel of oil) in Canada that investors and Mitt Romney want to pipeline down through the heartland of America; the Agent Orange Corn, and the GMO-soy we are feeding our own infants; the herbicides polluting our rivers that are not ‘black and thick with dye’ or saturated with ‘vile smells’ [for the most part], as they would have been if we hadn’t made intelligent adjustments to what our businesspeople wanted to perpetually foist onto the market.
Here is a quote from the Diary of Sidney George Fisher:
“Everyone is talking about the exposé…of the [banking] frauds. Astonishment & indignation are generally expressed. Indeed it is villainy on the most enormous scale. Yankees do nothing by halves, they always go the entire figure…I believe there has been more corruption & fraud in this country in the last five years than in all England for the last three hundred…In the meantime the press is dumb. All bought, all indebted to the Banks, all bribed. A curious fact showing the power of these institutions. They have thus obtained control over the country by the mere power of money. They bribe legislators & the press, and by governing the interests, govern to opinions of an immense army of merchants, speculators, stockholders, lawyers, politicians, all in short who direct public sentiment. The ‘monster’ has verified the predictions of its enemies.”
Thing is, folks, that was not written today, but rather in 1841. Bank bailouts, car industry bailouts in our 21st century, are still the norm. Still big bonuses for the CEO’s, while millions have lost their jobs, or been denigrated to lesser loftiness of labor. Then the Republicans complaining about the car industry bailouts being successful? of course, BECAUSE Obama did it.
But we could think of it this way, from Brewster Kneen’s ‘Dragging People Around by The Economy’ in the wonderful publication ‘Ram’s Horn’ Issue 288:
“The economy came into being as an object of calculation and a means of governing populations not with the political economy of the late nineteenth century, but only in the mid-twentieth century. Its appearance was made possible by oil, for the availability of abundant, low-cost energy allowed economists to abandon earlier concerns with the exhaustion of natural resources and represent material life instead as a system of monetary circulation – a circulation that could expand indefinitely without any problem of physical limits.
Economics became a science of money; its object was not the material forces and resources of nature and human labour, but a new space that was opened up between nature on one side and human society and culture on the other – the not-quite-natural, not-quite-social space that had come to be called ‘the economy’. (emphasis added)
This is why the Harper Government (previously known as the Government of Canada) insists on making the exploitation of the [Alberta] tar sands its top priority. If an endless flow of oil can be counted on, then the government can happily focus on ‘the economy ‘ and its numbers game, overriding any other interests or concerns. By numbers game I refer to the habit of counting “indicators”, such as the Gross Domestic Product, ‘jobs’ – doing what, at what pay, for whom not explained; trade, as if the more oil, gold, or grain is exported, the better off we will all be; and share prices. The numbers, of whatever, are considered to be indicators of good, and of economic growth, which is assumed to be limitless.’
It’s good to have another way of looking at the present and the future, besides what we are force-fed. That the economy, as framed by our current ideologues and economists, is what it is, though it has not been pictured that way always. More from Mr. Kneen and friends:
[My college studies were] about political economy, the organization and functioning of society, not about calculability and abstract money flows, and statistics was not part of the curriculum. But that was in the mid-1950s before the construction of ‘economics’ and ‘the economy’.
It was not so many years after the crash of 1929 and the New Deal of US President Franklin D. Roosevelt that created employment for hungry, homeless and jobless citizens to build public amenities like parks and washrooms, in spite of capitalist fears. The New Deal was a set of programs focused on Relief, Reform, and Recovery: Relief for the unemployed and poor; Reform of the financial system to prevent a repeat depression; and Recovery of a functional economy. There was also a recognition that capitalism required state intervention to save it from its own failure and that, distasteful as it might be, this state intervention was also necessary to counter the appeal of communism. The New Deal was thus an ethical, social and economic program, unlike the cold numerics of the current notion of an ‘economy’.
While there is no longer a threat from an ‘alien’ ideology and economic system to impose limits on capitalist excesses, there is the threat of limited energy supplies. The beast referred to as The Economy is totally dependent on the premise of unlimited energy supplies to fuel limitless growth.
“Innovations in methods of calculation, the use of money, the measurement of transactions and the compiling of national statistics made it possible to imagine the central object of politics as an object that could increase in size without any form of ultimate material constraint.”
– Carbon Democracy
One result of this was that the state had to bail out the banks in 2008 to avoid the collapse of capitalism. This ideology, in turn, was the foundation of the ‘trickle down’ theory and later, the idea of ‘development’. Both of these assumed, without a shred of evidence, that if there was more money sloshing around in The Economy, some of it would leak down into the lower classes – the bogus “a rising tide lifts all boats” theory. What actually happens, as is well documented, is that the greater the money flow in The Economy, the more flows to the top (like oil on water) and the greater the inequity in the society. Thus increased exports of grain may help The Economy, but will have no effect on hunger at home. As Gerry Ritz, Canada’s minister of agriculture, says, “Like never before, the flow of agricultural trade is essential to our economic growth”.
– press conference 24/2/12
If we now look at the recent Harper budget, we will see that its major concern is The Economy and the reduction of all possible obstacles to its growth. There are no measures to address climate change; on the contrary, there are concrete plans to streamline approval of major projects such as mines, tar sands development, and pipelines, by reducing if not eliminating any consideration of environmental consequences and seeking to de-fund and cut down citizen organizations that raise such concerns.
“Neoliberal policies have always been intended to weaken democratic and egalitarian politics by moving control from public representatives to the private forces of the market.”
– Carbon Democracy
On the other side of the budget, we see that while the Federal transfer of funds to the provinces for health – a real sacred cow – is maintained, Federal social welfare programs and pensions are reduced, thereby increasing provincial responsibilities and costs. The Federal government will continue its program of economic development with subsidies to the corporate sector (directly with grants and indirectly with tax benefits), heedless of the environmental consequences, and health and welfare will continue to be devolved to the provinces. In addition, Harper’s ‘tough-on-crime’ policies will increasingly incarcerate poor and marginalized people, with few if any rehabilitation programs, thereby reducing their capacity to become effective citizens and increasing the health and social assistance costs to the provinces. Harper’s punitive drug policies will have similar effects. All this in the name of restoring the health of The Economy. [Just like in America, where especially be aware that 2 million citizens are imprisoned, the USA having the highest rate of imprisonment in the world today. Too many of these are disproportionately African-American, as are death penalty executions.]’
Kneen says ‘Now it’s time for an economic inversion to transform The Economy from the master of money into a servant of the whole of society, including the food system. Now it’s time to liberate food, fish and agriculture from its domination. The Economy’s been upside down for a long time – since 1670 when the Hudson’s Bay Company was given the right to trade in – and, in effect, rule – the territory of Rupert’s Land, most of which later came to be called Canada. (See The Ram’s Horn #285) This trading economy was itself upside down, with the harvesting and export of furs, food, fish and trees regarded as more important than self-provisioning and caring for the land and the water. (The furs have been replaced by uranium and other minerals, and oil is taking the place of the exhausted fish.)
Canada’s agriculture and food policy has always about commodity production and export, with the expectation that there will be enough left over to feed the Canadian ‘family’. What counts is only what can be counted. As we all know, this system is not supporting the health and well-being of Canada’s population and environment, including the health of farming communities and indigenous peoples.
About a year ago, Food Secure Canada released the results of a 2½ year process that involved more than 3,500 people across Canada in developing a “people’s food policy” for Canada. “Resetting the Table” (www.foodsecurecanada.org) clearly states what is needed to turn this upside-down system right-side up, and to make our national agriculture and food policy “Feed the family and trade the leftovers”. A real economy, after all, is about how a family, community, or society organizes its material, and cultural, life together so that everyone (including the creatures we live with and the environment we share) is cared for.
Then we could turn our attention to an economy of sufficiency, not efficiency; an economy of enough, not more. The quality of relationships would replace the balance of trade, corporate share prices, executive ‘compensation’ and GDP as measures of success. Farming would no longer be about commodity production and cash flow, but about low-energy, diversity-based labour-intensive food production for the local market.
When everyone enjoys good food and good health, when the land is well cared for, the water clear and fish plentiful and energy consumption minimized, then we will know we have a good agriculture and food policy. Idealistic? What is more idealistic than to think that subservience to a make-believe Economy that produces inequity and social and environment destruction is either desirable or sustainable?’
Going back to Wendell Berry and the limitlessness of supply and satisfaction: ‘It is often assumed, as if under the influence of the promises of advertisements, that need or desire, ambition or inspiration may proceed straight to satisfaction. But this is false, contrary to the nature of form and the nature of discipline, as it is to common experience. It may sometimes happen by chance, but it does not dependably happen by chance. When it happens by luck, it will generally be found to be luck of the well prepared. These impulses dependably come to fruition only by encountering the resistances of form, by being balked, baffled, forced to turn back and start again. They come to fruition by error an correction. Form is the means by which error is recognized and the means by which correctness is recognized.
Ambition fulfillment, as we still understand when talking of politics or war, is a dangerous enterprise – for a mental appetite may be larger and more rapacious than a physical one, may require to be fulfilled more frequently and is less likely to be twice appeased by the same refulfillment.’
Concerning maturity and the past, Berry notes that ‘Maturity sees that the past is not to be rejected, destroyed, or replaced, but rather that it is to be judged and corrected, that the work of judgment and correction is endless, and that it necessarily involves one’s own past.
The industrial economy has made a general principle of the youthful antipathy to the past, and the modern world abounds with heralds of “a better future” and with debunkers. . .Cultural forms, it is held, should change apace to keep up with technology. Sexual discipline should be replaced by the chemicals, devices and procedures of “birth control,” and poetry must hasten to accept the influence of typewriter or computer.’
Is Mitt Romney a business ‘genius’ or any ‘genius’ at all? Can he de-regulate and pipeline us back to prosperity, sucking up all the possible oil and uranium the Earth can hold to bring back prosperity and luxury to our Economy? Can we obliterate those laws and agencies that supposedly protect us and our environment, but hamper our bottom line? Berry says ‘the faith in genius and the rebellions of genius, at the times when these are necessary, should lead to the renewal of forms, not their destruction. No individual can justifiably destroy anything of communal value on behalf of the community. Though individual geniuses have often enough assumed otherwise, there is no reason to grant them special privileges or exemptions. No artistic or scientific genius is justified in abusing nature or culture.’
But ‘Authority has abandoned the task of illuminating the laws of Nature, has forfeited the position of the friendly judge, scarcely now ventures even to adopt the tone of the earnest advocate: it has sunk to the inferior and petty work of photographing the corpse…’ Berry quotes Sir Albert Howard from ‘The Soil and Health’ page 81.
As we spin toward ignoring Fukushima’s outpourings of radionuclides and the USA government pushing genetically altered anything to burgeon the biotech industry, rather than deal with the limits of what nature can absorb, and man should sanely accept, we should know:
“The biotechnology companies are reacting to [the] weed resistance problem by introducing more genes into crops that will facilitate more herbicides to control weeds. This industry-led solution is causing a transgene-herbicide treadmill that will result in a doubling or tripling of herbicide use in corn, soybeans, and cotton [3 of our big four GMO crops, canola being #4, and now there is sugar beets and alfalfa to worry about]. Twenty-one weed species are now resistant to glyphosate [aka Round-Up], and 75% of those have been documented since 2005, despite company-sponsored research stating that the resistance would not occur.”
“Several species have developed amazing biochemical ways to resist the effects of the herbicide,” said J. Franklin Egan, doctoral student in ecology, Penn State. “If weed problems are addressed just with herbicides, evolution will win.”‘ – – this is from Ram’s Horn Issue 289
We have to get a hold of ourselves. We can’t just have anything we imagine. There are limits and restraints we have to impose upon ourselves. There is what many people try to revere and respect: Natural Laws. Laws of the Universe. Even if technology seems so terrific, it can just do what it will next and that will be GREAT! No consequences. No apologies required. Even if I’m a CEO or a buffoon on the next high speed train to Chicago. More road kill, another seven million blackbirds dying from pesticides and herbicides in our heartland. More brain cancer in our golf pros [double the rate of the common citizenry] from the same toxic chemicals being used to green the greens, but pollute the groundtable water. Just like in Fukushima, essentially forever contaminated, as is the radioactive land and water around the Chernobyl reactor in Ukraine.
Mankind will not be on the planet forever in its current state of evolution. We may devolve into a more mutant state, with our mutant food and mutating radiation from nuclear plants and chemicals that are the next magical thing.
Last thought from Robert Vivian page 183 of his ‘The Least Cricket of Evening;’ the essay is ‘Why I Go North:’ ‘What I’ve slowly come to realize is that going north is a kind of preparation, a ritual that is preparing me for what lies beyiond even in the midst of such natural splendor, a splendor that cannot be fully understood by anyone, let alone possessed. I’m learning how to die in going north, and at the same time learning how to live. It’s teaching me that I don’t need very much, that in fact I need nothing very badly – – and the more nothingness, the better. So I taste and nibble away at absence, I drink the slow-moving waters of emptiness, and I feel space opening up inside me, space that needs the company of other space, other emptiness. I never considered myself an upright chasm in training, and yet that is exactly what I am – – what I think we all are. Who knew such northern exposures weren’t anything to be afraid of, that they didn’t need to be filled, because it allows everything to pass through it?
This is why I go north so faithfully, and why north has become my stern and loving teacher, though it instructs without saying a single word, without asking anything of me except to go back again and again, however feebly, however imperfectly, because in doing so I am somehow released from all the things I’m not, back to that heartbreaking openness that makes everything possible,especially the ability and eagerness to keep on saying yes.’
Oh, wait, is that contrary to all we just said about respecting that the Earth cannot limitlessly endure all the weight and waste that The Economy requires to sludge up our rivers and Fukushima waters, and then the waters of our entire Pacific Ocean and all life within our greatest ocean? It could, but more likely, we want to be open and positive, so we can appreciate all Nature and life offers, say yes to less: less materialism, less ecstasy from excess, and more openness to the now, and the beauty that the north, south, east or west offer to our existence, utilizing the experience of those who went before us, and saving what should be provided for the future of all those who come after us.
Until next time,
All the Best,
copyrighted by Conrad Miller M.D.
PS I want to see ‘The Dictator’ and Joe Walsh this summer, surf my life away, and live happily until the day I die, preferably in an un-radioactive ocean, more likely on the Atlantic side…
PPS All Wendell Berry quotes from ‘Standing By Words’ pages 95 through 118; Brewster Kneen quotes from 2 issues of Ram’s Horn Issues 288 and 289. Other quotes as noted.
Watch Fukushima Update June 9 2012 on youtube; up to about 18,000 views after five days of posting. Focuses on the debris and the radiation running out of contaminated Fukushima rivers into the Pacific Ocean, and the possible short and long term effects.